Although historically El Salvador has been home to a culturally diverse mix of peoples including blacks, Indians, Hispanics, and North Europeans, by the 1980s the population of the country was essentially homogeneous in terms of ethnicity and basic cultural identity. Virtually all Salvadorans spoke Spanish, the official language, as their mother tongue, and the vast majority could be characterized as mestizos (or ladinos, a term more commonly used in Central America), meaning persons of mixed biological ancestry who follow a wide variety of indigenous and Hispanic customs and habits that over the centuries have come to constitute Spanish-American cultural patterns. In the late 1980s, the ethnic composition of the population was estimated as 89 percent mestizo, 10 percent Indian, and 1 percent white.
In contrast to most other Central American countries, El Salvador no longer possessed an ethnically or linguistically distinct Indian population, although persons of Indian racial or cultural heritage still lived in the western departments of the country. During the twentieth century, this population was rapidly assimilated into the dominant Hispanic culture. Similarly, there was no ethnically or culturally distinct black population.
In spite of ethnic homogeneity, however, Salvadoran society in the 1980s exhibited strong contrasts in life-style based on extremes of great wealth and abject poverty. These contrasting life-styles, in turn, created serious rifts in Salvadoran society that effectively divided the population into distinctive subcultural groups.
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